Carry the One

I Can See Better Through the Fog is a storytelling podcast series in the vein of This American Life and the Moth. It tells the ongoing story of an echo boomer’s quarter life crises, featuring life, love, music, and San Francisco. Press the play button below to hear an audio recording of this latest entry or listen to it on iTunes. If it doesn’t work, you may need the latest version of flash software. (click here to download). Another troubleshooting tip would be to go directly to the soundcloud website. Sit back and let your ears do the work. The text version of this entry is provided beneath the list of selected tracks.

Runtime: 6 minutes and 23 seconds.

Selected tracks: Grizzly Bear “Cheerleader” and Band of Horses (covering Grizzly Bear) “Plans”

The elementary school’s cafeteria lay still and empty. My steps echoed through the halls filled with vacant classrooms. I stopped in front of a dining bench, pivoting to survey the vast, vacant space. After taking a deep breath, I took a sip from my coffee thermos. The Dark Sumatra blend sizzled on the tip of my tongue and cooled as it trickled down to the bottom of my throat. A large refrigerator hummed from the kitchen, yet I could now distinguish a faint set of voices coming from a classroom just outside the cafeteria. My tutoring supplies shifted softly inside my backpack as I made my way toward the voices.

A Harry Potter reading poster covered most of the square window at the top of the classroom door where the voices were coming from. Tilting my head to its side, I peeked through what little peep space was provided by the poster. A young Asian woman, with a short, stylish bob hairdo, and a white summer child care t-shirt sat in a tiny chair next to a child of maybe seven. I tilted my head further, which revealed more kids inside the classroom.

I opened the door cautiously, as to not abruptly interrupt their activity. The child care teacher directed her attention to me as I crept inside. “Hi. I’m here to tutor Jose. Mari said you would be here waiting for me,” I said softly. “You must be Max,” the young Asian woman said smiling. She came up to me and shook my hand. “Teresa,” she introduced herself, then walked over to a black binder atop a bookcase beside the door.

“Jose isn’t here today. Although he’s supposed to be.” She began flipping through the binder until she came to a page she examined. “Let me see if he’s coming in later today.” Teresa scanned the page of phone numbers with her pointer finger until she stopped on what had to have been Jose’s. She cradled the binder and carried it two steps to the classroom phone.

While waiting for Teresa to get an answer, I scanned the room. There were two other adults aside from her with a mix of fifteen or so students. Some were Spanish speakers, and some were Cantonese speakers. I recognized Gloria, a student from Ms. C’s class. She smiled when her eyes met mine, then ran over and gave me a big hug. “Hi,” I said. “I know you’re excited, but are you supposed to be working on something?” Gloria nodded. “Math homework,” she said with regret. As Gloria returned to her seat Teresa got a hold of Jose’s father.

“He’s in Mexico?” she repeated for clarification. “Family emergency? And when will he be back? Hm. Alright. Let us know when he’s back.” It was the second student I’d lost over the summer to a family emergency in Mexico. Which made me wonder if the cases had similarities and what the whole story was in each case.

Teresa bit her lower lip in thought. She then rotated her head, looking at a student working from a math workbook at the table nearest her. “Jonathan, you’re in Ms. C’s class next year, right?” Jonathan looked up from his workbook and nodded. Teresa looked back at me. “Jonathan could use some help with his math. Could you work with him every Monday until Jose gets back?”

“That’ll be great,” I told her. With that I walked over to Jonathan and sat in the tiny chair next to him. “Is it ok if I sit here and work on this math with you Jonathan?” I asked. The whimsical smile accompanying his nod caught me off guard. It was an unusually friendly and welcoming gesture for a kid to give a stranger. “I’m Max,” I introduced myself.

Looking over his workbook, I became anxious. It was all in Spanish. I was going to need to decipher some of the questions before I could think of helping him. My eyes drew first to the words I knew. From there I inferred what the directions were. It was a variety of first grade math problems. Jonathan seemed to be struggling the most with double digit addition problems. “Let’s start with this one,” I told him, pointing to the equation 61+77. I then pulled out the building blocks I’d used in a game with Luna earlier in the summer to give Jonathan a visual aid and proceded to teach him about the ones and tens columns.

Apartment 14

I Can See Better Through the Fog is a storytelling podcast series in the vein of This American Life and the Moth. It tells the ongoing story of an echo boomer’s quarter life crises, featuring life, love, music, and San Francisco. Press the play button below to hear an audio recording of this latest entry or listen to it on iTunes. If it doesn’t work, you may need the latest version of flash software. (click here to download). Another troubleshooting tip would be to go directly to the soundcloud website. Sit back and let your ears do the work. The text version of this entry is provided beneath the list of selected tracks.

Runtime: 7 minutes and 56 seconds.

Selected tracks: Danger Mouse, Daniele Luppi, & Norah Jones “Black”, Vampire Weekend “California English”, and Beat Connection “Invisible Cities”

Ricardo, Luna’s father, lead me through a series of dimly lit halls. The maze leading to his family’s unit, inside their Tenderloin District apartment building, was lined with eroding white walls and stained 70s style carpeting. We turned a corner and went up a set of stairs. A window followed us up a floor.

The sun’s light trickled in through the thin gap between the window and the brick wall outside of it. I peered outside as I climbed, noticing the dark rusted fire escape that was wedged between the two buildings.

Finally we reached apartment 14. Luna stood bashfully in the front doorway. Her brown hair was done in pigtails. Each of her two braids were held together by thick, blue hairbands made from elastic fabric. I crouched down so that my eyes were even level with hers.

“Hi Luna. You remember me?” She looked up at her father, then nervously smiled and nodded at me. “Max.” I reintroduced myself, putting out my hand. She shook it. Ricardo motioned invitingly for me to step into the apartment. He said something to Luna in Spanish which made her disappear momentarily into the kitchen.

It was a one room apartment, with a single window that gave the same restricted view as the one in the stairwell. The rug was dark green, making it feel ever darker in the room than in the apartment building’s hallway. I waited for Luna, eyeing two bunk buds that took up half the apartment.

Luna returned with a bulky set of flashcards, held together by a flimsy rubber band. She handed them to me. The first card read “laugh”. I turned to Ricardo. “This is great! Esta fantastico,” I said ecstatically. I flipped through the flashcards as Luna and her father took me two steps further into the apartment, into the kitchen.

Luna sat across from me at a circular, wooden table pushed against the wall, as to keep maneuvering room for the cooking area. I zipped open my backpack, pulling out some of the materials Ms. C. had given me to use. Ricardo set up a chair in the doorway between the kitchen and the main room. He sat and watched attentively as I pulled a cluster of first grade level books out of a plastic ziplock bag. I shared the front cover and title of each book with Luna. Once all the books were spread across the table, I asked her to pick one. “Mean Bean,” she said, pointing to the book with the most animated and colorful characters on any of the covers.

It was comforting to have my mother’s thirty years experience as an elementary school and special education teacher to lean on. Using the strategy she had recommended, I stopped after each page and asked Luna about the pictures she saw. “What are those?” Luna pointed at one of the pictures. “They’re his eyebrows,” I told her as I rubbed my own dark, bushy brows. “Oh,” she said. She then rubbed her own brows. “Sejas,” she said.

Periodically Ricardo would comment in Spanish, using an English word here and there, repeating some of what I was teaching his daughter. “Why do you think Mean Bean was so mean?” I asked Luna at the end of the story. “Because he wasn’t happy,” she stuttered.

Ten minutes were left in our hour long tutoring session. I pulled out a couple games from my backpack: a deck of cards, bingo, dice, and a set of multicolored, plastic building blocks. I let Luna choose which game she wanted to play. She placed a hand on the blocks. “This,” she said. “Ok,” I responded. “I’ve got a game we can play with those.” I grabbed the two dice. “We’ll take turns rolling the dice. However much is on the dice, is how many blocks we get to use that turn.” With that, I rolled my die. It rotated until it rested on a three. I took three blocks, two pink and one blue, and connected them in a straight line. “You get how to play?” I checked in. Luna nodded.

As the game progressed, the structure I made with my blocks became more and more avant guarde. Luna’s closed in on a recognizable figure. “That looks like a person jumping,” I commented. Luna pointed back to the cover of “Mean Bean”. “It’s him,” she said.

At twelve noon we cleaned up the table occupied by blocks and books. Ricardo said something to Luna in Spanish again as I was repacking my backpack. Luna then spoke up. “I have books in English.” She led me back into the main room and showed me a pile of kids books in English. “Will you pick a book out to read to me for next time?” She nodded and smiled more confidently this time. I turned to her father and communicated in the best Spanish I could call upon. “El mismo tiempo en jueves es beuno?” Ricardo nodded and responded, “Si.”

I walked back through the dark maze. Outside the brick apartment building pigeons nibbled at cornbread that was stuffed in a bent aluminum tray in the gutter. I took a deep breath of fresh air, intensifying and embalming the high I felt.

The Perks of Being a Sunflower

I Can See Better Through the Fog is a storytelling podcast series in the vein of This American Life and the Moth. It tells the ongoing story of an echo boomer’s quarter life crises, featuring life, art, love, and San Francisco. Press the play button below to hear an audio recording of this latest entry. If it doesn’t work, you may need the latest version of flash software. (click here to download). Another troubleshooting tip would be to go directly to the soundcloud website. Sit back and let your ears do the work. The text version of this entry is provided beneath the list of selected tracks.

Runtime: 8 minutes and 23 seconds.

Selected tracks: Accept Yourself and Love Like a Sunset

Absorb…the Merriam-Webster Dictionary’s definition.

1. to take in and make part of an existent whole

2. to suck up or take up

3. to engage or engross wholly (as in absorbed in thought)

4a. to receive without recoil or echo

4b. to transform into a different form

—–

“Did you finish it?” my friend Rebecca eagerly asked. I hadn’t. Less than a week ago she lent me what she proclaimed to be her bible from her teen years, “The Perks of Being A Wallflower”. It’s a fictional first person narrative about a boy’s freshman year of high school. “You need to read this book right now. It impacted me so much when I was going through what you are at this point.” Since coming out at age 25 and finally allowing myself to pursue romantic relationships, I’ve felt like I’m playing catchup with everyone else. Essentially I’m living through the teenage romantic angst that everyone has already gone through. This is why Rebecca wanted me to read the book. “Ok,” I assured her. “I’m not as fast a reader as you, but I’ll get through it. I promise.”

Two days after she gave me the book, I pushed past the first couple pages. It  referenced many cultural landmarks that I personally connect with, like the band The Smiths, the book Catcher and the Rye, and the film Rocky Horror Picture Show. As I continued reading I noticed select sentences and paragraphs she highlighted. It was insightful to see what moments popped out to her back when she first read the book. I felt like I was coming to understand Rebecca more as a person and getting a chance to closely examine lines she thought would be useful to me. Into a couple chapters, a quote she highlighted stood out. “We accept the love we think we deserve.” I leaned back in my chair at my kitchen table and applied the theory to people I’ve known and to myself. It worked in every case. I then pulled out my phone and texted Rebecca the quote. She responded: “That line is specifically why I wanted you to read this book.” I then texted back: “I’m still learning I deserve more than no love at all.” Rebecca then added: “You need to love yourself before you can let anyone else in completely.” This was not the first time I’d heard this statement, but the impact of it felt especially powerful this time.

——

Ms. C started writing on the white board with a green marker. It was my day to volunteer in 2nd grade. On the board she wrote 7 sentences each having at least one blank line in it for the students to fill in. “The unit were working on this month is life cycles. I want you to read with your elbow partner the book I give you about a certain living being. For example we have a horse, a sunflower, and an ant. I want you to fill in the blank of each of these sentences describing the different stages of their lives and what attributes they have in each of these stages.”

Ms. C turned to me and asked if I could sit with a student she had me working with earlier. We’ll call her Sarah. Sarah was a Hispanic student who struggled with her reading and writing in English. Her elbow partner was a bilingual Chinese girl, who spoke both Cantonese and English. We’ll call her Jennifer. I sat down next to the two girls just as they were handed a book on sunflowers. They began copying down the sentences Ms. C had written on the board. The first question was easily handled. “A sunflower’s first stage is a seed.” They wrote. After a couple more answers they came to a difficult fill in the blank sentence. They needed to answer what a sunflower can do once it is fully bloomed. Jennifer, the Cantonese speaker, turned to Sarah, the Spanish speaker, and answered: “A sunflower can absorb the sun’s rays after it grows its petals.” “That’s very good,” I praised.

“What does absorb mean?” Sarah asked. I responded: “It takes in the suns energy. It soaks it up in order to grow.” All I received was a blank stare. There was no confirmation behind her large dark pupils that she understood. I paused for a moment, thinking of a different way to explain the word to her. My mind shifted through everything that can absorb. I knew I had to pick something that would be easy for her to visualize. Then it hit me. “You know what a sponge is, right?” Nothing. “How about a paper towel?” She nodded,”Uh huh, ya”. “What happens to a paper towel when it gets wet?” I asked. She took a moment to think and then looked back at me, looking for the answer. I rubbed my face thinking what avenue to try next, then it struck me. “Hold on.” I told her.

I walked over to the classroom’s sink, grabbed a white paper towel, yellow water color paint, and a cup filled with water. I set it all down in front of Sarah. She and Jennifer observed intently. “You see what the paper towel looks and feels like right now?” “Uh huh,” Sarah answered. I dropped an ounce of yellow paint into the water, and stirred it with my pinkie, tinting its color. Then I dunked the paper towel into the water. Both girls focused intently on the paper towel and the cup filled with yellow water. I pulled the towel out of the cup. It was now soaked and yellow. “Is the towel different now than it was before?” I inquired. “Ya its yellow!” Sarah replied. “What happened?” I asked her. “You put it in the yellow water.” she answered. “That’s what the word absorb means,” I explained. “The paper towel absorbed the yellow water.” Sarah nodded confidently. She understood now.

An Uncontrollable Rush

I Can See Better Through the Fog is a storytelling podcast series in the vein of This American Life and the Moth. It tells the ongoing story of an echo boomer’s quarter life crises, featuring life, art, love, and San Francisco. Press the play button below to hear an audio recording of this latest entry. If it doesn’t work, you may need the latest version of flash software. (click here to download). Another troubleshooting tip would be to go directly to the soundcloud website. Sit back and let your ears do the work. The text version of this entry is provided beneath the list of selected tracks.

Runtime: 14 minutes, 54 seconds.

Selected tracks: Rox in the Box, Star Wars Theme, Somebody That I Used To Know, & Love Interruption.

Dawn broke, and with it, so did my ipod. On an early morning jog through the Haight, clicks interrupted the music flowing through my earbuds. The volume adjusted itself high then low then high again, piercing my eardrums.  Continuing to run, I shoved my hand through my zip up hoody’s sleeve and detached the ipod from my armband. It’s screen was already lit, yet I hadn’t touched it at all. I tried changing it into the lock mode. Instead of fixing the problem, the music shut off altogether. Inconveniently, the last leg of my ritual morning run would be filled only by the sounds of the city and my own thoughts.

More than 72 hours had elapsed since what I consider to be my first kiss. For discretionary purposes, I’ll refer to the guy as Fang. He and I had talked very little since then. Just a couple texts letting each other know what the upcoming week was looking like. There was no mention of the millisecond long awkward kiss I had initiated. Because this was new territory for me, and because I had strong feelings for Fang, I couldn’t stop overanalyzing his sudden lack in communication. He was smitten over me before and after our first date making me hold no regret in kissing him at the end of our second one. Yet I was starting to wonder if he recognized my green qualities. And I wondered if that had scared him off, prematurely ending what I consider to be my first truly romantic experience. Just as the lack of a beat was getting to me, my apartment building came into view. My run was over, but the day, and the week, were just beginning.

——

The 4th grader’s current study unit was the gold rush. The teacher, Mr. Allen, stood in front of the class and introduced the story. “Ok guys, so when you’re reading about John Batterson Stetson, I want you to think about what the big idea of the story is.” Mr. Allen’s focus lately had been reading comprehension and how to detect the bigger point of both expository and fictional stories. “Remember the strategies we’ve worked on that will help you figure out what the big idea is.” He pointed to the board where there was a chart he’d drawn. It’s heading read Preview/ Connect/ Predict. Underneath it were two columns labeled What am I Going to Learn About and Notes on What I Learned. “We’re looking for one big idea, that is about the whole story.” He said.

The expository piece told how Stetson moved West during the gold rush and eventually came to invent the most commonly used cowboy hat. His road to success was bumpy, filled with failures. Back east no one wanted to buy his invention, but out West it became a necessary accessory. After finishing the story, the class began to take a stab at the big idea. “Don’t give up on your dreams.” One student suggested. Mr. Allen contorted his face. “That’s alright, but I think we can do even better. Does that sentence tell us anything about John Stetson’s journey to success? Let’s try another.” He picked another student. “Just because something doesn’t work at first, does not mean it will never work at all.” Exuberantly Mr. Allen replied back while nodding “That says a lot doesn’t it. Now that’s a big idea.”

——-

Midweek two friends came over after I got off work. We drank a couple beers and talked for hours, mostly about love, relationships, and sex. These were three overlapping topics until a year ago I refused to touch. I had been uncomfortable in my own sexuality and was ashamed of my attraction to men. Now was a different time. Our conversation was especially useful, as I was going stir crazy over the black out in texting between me and Fang. I was completely over reading into it. Rationally, I knew I had no control over how he felt, but still I had no control over my emotions. I felt like I was on a roller coaster. At one moment I had myself convinced he still was interested in me, and the next I felt it was all over.

Hearing my friends articulate their own short term and long term sexual experiences with such candor and maturity, gave me much needed insight into my own insanity. The two women agreed that turning someone else on in both a spiritual and physical sense, can be the biggest turn on for yourself. I’ve never let myself go in that way with anyone. I believe my self confidence has suffered as a consequence. I had myself convinced Fang was going to be the first guy I allowed through my emotional defenses. I was itching to know where he stood about the kiss and if he was interested in any further development between the two of us.

——-

Thursday morning I went with the 2nd graders on a field trip to see the San Francisco Symphony. As I walked with one student, they recalled performances they saw in past years. He was excited to hear the Star Wars theme again. Once inside we were ushered to seats above and behind the stage. They looked down at the orchestra and out onto the entire theater. We would be on display for the entire audience which made the teacher, Ms. C weary. She drew this to her students’ attention, letting them know they needed to be on especially good behavior. This was part of the field trip’s purpose: to teach the kids how to be a respectful audience at live shows.

I watched as seats filled, color coordinated by school. Below us on the stage a violinist, a cellist, and a trumpet player were all tuning their instruments. Their music sounded beautiful already, even though their sounds and rhythms did not fit together. Soon Davies Music Hall became filled to the brim with kids. Out walked the conductor. The teachers and adult chaperones began to applaud. The kids followed their example. Then the conductor bowed gracefully, and turned to his players. He lifted his arms up, holding his hands out wide. And then the orchestra played as one under his direction.

Afterward we had lunch in a park back near school. I sat with a student and asked him what his favorite part of the symphony was. “The part where we got to yell out Mambo!” He replied. “What was your favorite instrument?” “The big violin.” He smiled. “That’s called a cello.” I told him. As we continued eating lunch on the park bench he began telling me about his favorite Formula 1 race car driver, a Brazilian named Ayrton Senna. Senna was considered one of the best at his highly dangerous sport. The boy listed off all of Senna’s best races. Then he recalled Senna’s last race. At the 1994 San Marino Grand Prix Senna was in the lead. On a seemingly routine lap, his car smashed into the wall on a sharp turn. I asked the boy if Senna survived the accident. “No, he died,” the boy replied, unaffected by the weight of the story.

——

The week slowly rolled into Thursday night. I’d texted Fang on Tuesday, wishing him luck on an open mic he was to perform at with his band. He was on guitar and vocals. Early on when we were texting frequently he sent me some of his music. It was reminiscent of the Smashing Pumpkins. His singing voice I found both cute and sexy. No response had come, worrying me that he wasn’t interested anymore. That night I finally heard back. I received a long, two part text explaining his week and apologizing for his untimeliness and poor attempts to hang out. He needed time to put some things in his life back together. His message was unequivocally clear. It did not matter the reasons, we currently were not going to work out.

That night I decided to take a warm shower. I wanted to wash away the emptiness. Steam spread quickly through the bathroom. I glanced at myself in the mirror before stepping into the tub. My improved exercise habits had taken my body from frumpy to fit. Crescent moon pecs, a flat , tight stomach, and veins rippling down each bicep. I had molded body into society’s typical sex object. Yet here I remained untouched. My improved romantic habits had not taken me to a relationship. Fog blanketed the mirror now, concealing the reflection of myself. Strangely, in this moment alone, I felt calm. I had a handle on my emotions.

——

Mr. Allen’s class was especially attentive Friday morning. While his students worked silently on more reading comprehension, Mr. Allen walked over to me. “They’re doing really good today. Better than most days. But their attention spans can only last so long. I need to do something to let them know what being on task looks and feels like. Not to mention they need their minds stimulated in different ways so they can keep up their stamina. Watch this.” Mr. Allen walked over to his desk and retrieved a stuffed toy chinchilla. “Alright, good work guys, let’s switch gears. I want everyone to put away everything on your desk and then sit on the top of them.” The class followed his request. “This game is called Silence, Chinchilla.” He had all of his students complete attentions. “The goal of the game is to not be caught catching the Chinchilla when it cries out, and it only cries out if you catch it too roughly.” After a couple more instructions, the game commenced. The students followed Mr. Allen’s directions to a T.

Life is not like an ipod or an orchestra. We can’t always control the rush of noise that is our emotions. The best we can do is invest ourselves in varying activities, interests, and people. Through these occupations we can slow our fast beating hearts and our racing minds. The calming silence it provides can prevent a crash inside ourselves. Often love will seep through the cracks naturally when our hearts and minds are engaged elsewhere. I had been fortunate to have my volunteer work, my friends, my writing, my exercise routine, and the city’s infinite offerings to move me forward. I had been in a foolish rush to dig up a heart of gold. In this romantic failure I was reminded of how to let go of the uncontrollable.